Dimensions of Vinyl Record Cover: All You Need to Know

Published Categorized as Vinyl 101

Once we get past the sonic element of a record, the next point of concern will surely be the visual. One of the pure blisses of just sitting back and listening to an album lies not just in the enjoyment of the sounds collated within, but also to marvel at the attached and corresponding album artwork. For vinyl records especially this is of primary concern, given how large the album cover’s dimensions are, particularly in the case of 12 inch records.

Thus, it ought not to take long before we are listening to a record in such a way and suddenly end up asking ourselves about the exact dimensions of vinyl record cover. And, in answering this query, we are left only with a lengthy series of further queries that only seem to fan outwards the deeper we go. Knowledge is blooming, backwards and forwards, and we are they who harvest.

Therefore, we will today be exploring the dimensions of vinyl record cover art through the world, and following questions that might arise, asking ‘why, why, why’ until we can no longer bear it, until our brains have exhausted each possibility and / or themselves in turn.

So, What is the Size of a Record Cover?

If we indeed thinking of the dimensions of vinyl record cover of 12 inches, then surely the cover will be 12 inches from corner to corner, no? Well, almost, but we have to allow a minute gap for the record to breathe, else it will either suffocate and / or be crushed in transit – not your precious vinyl!

So, with the gap included and taken into account, the dimensions of a vinyl record cover ought to be 12.375 inches square from corner to corner. This is the industry standard, and so every effort is made to follow these guidelines, equating to around 31.43 cm when translated to this other form of measurement.

The Compact Disc (or CD) came to dominate the music market after vinyl records and alongside cassette tapes, smaller, more efficient and yet able to hold more data. They are in fact able to hold as much as 74 – 80 minutes of music per disc, and there are rumours that this is the case because the original proponent of the CD’s favorite classical symphony was around this long.

Nevertheless, despite the disc itself being able to hold on one side (without flipping) at least twice to three times as much as a vinyl record, the cover of a CD is around three times smaller, evidently catering for the immensely reduced disc size.

The official dimensions of the disc run somewhere around 4.7 inches in diameter (or 119.38 millimeters). Having taken into account the breathing room necessary to accommodate for the disc inside the packaging, we are left with an album cover of between 4.724 inches and 4.974 inches squared (the latter catering for breathing space of the cover itself with the material). In millimeters this equates to between 119.9896 mm and 126.3396 mm.

vinyl vs cd

What Size Should the Art Itself Be?

Whether or not the artwork is of a high or low fidelity, any artist releasing music and thus releasing album should aim for a high picture quality when producing said album art. This is especially true for the dimensions of vinyl record cover, as the artwork is going to be enlarged to significant proportions, 12.375 inches by 12.375 inches to be exact!

All too often I have seen or bought a new vinyl record and the cover has had significant portions lost to low bit rate and a low number of pixels, muddying the overall quality of the image to no end. It can be all too easy to neglect the distortion that can occur when an image is enlarged, and to such a drastic degree in the case of vinyl record covers.

This seems to be a problem that plagues far more independent producers and record labels than larger conglomerate labels, for the obvious reasons. It is a crying shame to think on for too long, but I suppose renders it all the more special and significant when an independent really do (or otherwise can and have the financial capabilities) to take these things seriously. It is, after all, in the details that the devil lies.

Thus, as an artist sending off their album artwork ought at least to aim for dimensions of 1600 pixels by 1600 pixels. However, there is more of a push in the industry for dimensions more aligned with 3000 pixels by 3000 pixels, for obvious reasons of consumer enjoyment and fidelity. For a 10 inch record, for example, it is recommended to provide album art with dimensions of 3000 pixels by 3000 pixels at 300 dots per inch (DPI). This is, in fact, another industry standard that is more strictly adhered to by professionals.

What About the Width of a Vinyl Record?

There are three central record sizes in today’s record collecting market, two of which are more commonly used than the other. These former, more common types come in the form of 12 inch vinyl records and 7 inch vinyl records, with the latter, less common format being that of the 10 inch vinyl record.

Record Sizes

Obviously, since there are three central vinyl record sizes, the width of these vinyl record types and thus the corresponding dimensions of vinyl record cover are going to be significantly different. We ought not interpret them all as one unit, lest we go on to make a radically wrong decision with regards to the dimensions of vinyl record cover.

Thus, we will go on and heed some of our own words on the subject, taking each record size on its own terms, as it ought to be, with each individual size coming to represent and work and fuse with different genres, formats, styles of music, concepts, ideas, contexts, and histories, each as unique in its own way as any other.

12 Inch Record Dimensions

Out of the three main sizes, it is the 12 inch vinyl record that will more often than not house an entire album, typically with one half allotted per side of the physical disc, though (depending on the length of the album) this can extend to many different sides of vinyl, extending the dimensions of vinyl record cover considerably.

12 inch discs will more often than not be played at 33 1/3 rpm, for there is more space on the record to contain the music which is being released in this longer form; a 12 inch record can hold roughly 15 to 22 minutes of music per side, a significantly smaller amount compared with CDs, without of course considering how much this run time would be dimmed at 45 revolutions per minutes instead.

12 inch discs and a 33 1/3 rpm playback speed arrived at a cultural moment when radios were the primary source of listening entertainment for most consumers in the west. The format didn’t have the smoothest start, though 12 inch discs were and still are relatively unparalleled, so effective as they are at offering longer playback times on this disc size, all 12 inches and around 30 centimeters of it.

how are vinyl records made

Soon after release in 1948, Columbia records began advertising it to the masses, heralding that the 12 inch 33 1/3 rpm record was able to hold whole classical performance and symphonies on just one side of the disc without needing to interrupt one’s listening experience to turn the disc over to the other side.

Assimilating the format with the music of the western classical elite in this way instantly elevated the format among consumers, being able to hold what is considered by many to be the pinnacle of artistic achievement in the western classical community. And it took off even further in the 1960s, when the Long Play format really spread its wings, and artists were allowed to use it to experiment, rendering the album a cohesive and conceptual whole instead of just a collection or compilation of single tracks.

10 Inch Record Dimensions

Of the three central sizes of vinyl record discs that you will encounter in the wild, this will be one of the rarer ones if not the rarest, and thus you will not need to cater your dimensions of vinyl record cover to this disc size anywhere near as much.

Being the most liminal of the three central record widths, many disregard its uses, labelling simply as an inbetween. With a run time of between 12 to 15 minutes at 33 1/3 rpm and between 9 to 12 minutes at 45 rpm, as well as a size of 10 inches (or around 25 cm give or take), there ought to be few doubts about the status of these dimensions as inbetween. In an age of decreasing attention spans, however, I might suggest that this be capitalised upon more often, much as someone like Earl Sweatshirt has done with his album Some Rap Songs, wherein the longest song is around the two minute mark, and each song is over after just two verses.

Emile Berliner, inventor of the gramophone, designed corresponding gramophone records that were played between 70 and 80 rpm, a precedent which was followed to the point where 78 rpm was considered the industry standard in the western world by 1925. The original 78 rpm discs were typically rendered on 10 inch records so as to accommodate for the shorter playback time, becoming, with time, the standard size for records played at this speed.

For reasons pertaining to shorter playback times and the hazards relating to poor building materials, this medium and speed decreased in popularity. 10 inch 78 rpm records are rarely produced anymore, with even older record players and turntables rarely able to play them. Their audience is therefore limited strictly to the kind of audiophiles who are willing to cripple their finances and relationships for audio fidelity and sound quality.

7 Inch Record Dimensions

The 7 inch record is no doubt the smallest of the three central vinyl record sizes, though I would hope that this lack in size does not translate to an overall lack of presence, power, or strength, for they can be found everywhere, and, despite their dimensions of vinyl record cover, have played a key role in the development of recorded music and popular sounds over the last century or so.

7 inch record discs are more often than not played at 45 rpm for the sake of sound fidelity, being the apposite size for a single song being on each side (though, of course, dependant on the length of the songs in questions). The format is able to hold 4 to 6 minutes on each side of 7 inch space (or 17.78 cm, if you are looking to get specific), with their playback capacity increasing to around 7 minutes if played at 33 1/3 rpm. Thus, just as much as they are known as 7 inches, they are also referred to as ‘singles’, hence where it gets its name.

The aim seems to have been to provide music listeners with a more transportable medium which could hold higher quality versions of album singles, so they could be played again and again. Seeing as the album as a format wasn’t taken altogether very seriously until the 1960s and the advent of artists like the Beatles and the Beach Boys – other than in marketing a bunch of otherwise unrelated singles – this medium became the way to exchange popular music, since it was able to contain in this smaller format items from an official and upcoming release.

At the time of its inception, the radio was still the lynchpin for the discovery and exploration of all things in popular music at this time. Still, many popular radio hits of this period were stored on 45 rpm 7 inch vinyl record. The discs were only able to contain one or two songs per side at the most, so the 7 inch quickly acquired the name its present nickname (‘singles’), which has become the term most think to use when naming a song that is released outside the bounds of a longer release, such as an album.

So, What Size are Album Covers When They Are Streamed?

Since the dimensions of vinyl record cover do not strictly translate to this wholly digital medium, it is perfectly sane enquiry to ask. Sure, album covers are still presented in their perfectly square and even dimensions on such streaming services as Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, Deezer, Tidal, Amazon etc etc, but as a consumer we are not receiving anywhere near as involved an experience as we might enjoy if we were to sit back and listen to a record and drink in wholly the album art on the large form medium of the dimensions of vinyl record cover.

This is a very different situation, and so the requirements for uploading artwork in this way are likely to be rather different, right? Well, more or less. There is still an emphasis on fidelity, but seeing as many, if not all, streaming consumers will be experiencing this album art on a smaller device and thus a smaller medium, the fidelity does not matter as much. With the dimensions of vinyl record cover being what they are, any artwork is instantly magnified and distorted outwards. Thus, the fidelity needs to be as high as possible, else the veritable pixels of an image will be clear for all to see and will blot the art, unless this is of course the intention.

There will be, as well, less of a penchant for users of streaming services to sit back and properly take in the album artwork. It seems altogether rather humorous to imagine someone, say, sitting back on the bus and listening to a song or album on their mobile phone or tablet or other music device, looking down at the screen and marvelling at the artwork as they might with a vinyl record cover were they in a similar situation.

cd vs vinyl

The official requirements, having thus considered the significant reduction in the sheer size of the album art will require a minimum of 1400 pixels by 1400 pixels, with a maximum of 2048 pixels by 2048 pixels. There is a limit, of course, because there is, no matter how large, a limit on the amount of data available to such streaming services. This minimum limit, too, is one that is even carried over to services like Bandcamp. So many time have I gone to upload an album on there only to find that my album art does not meet the minimum pixel requirements!

But, How Big is a Record Player?

This is indeed a difficult to answer, though a perfectly valid question to pose after initially thinking about the dimensions of vinyl record cover. However, I must confess that this is in fact impossible to answer, seeing as there are many, many different kinds of record player.

If your record player is one of those that contains all of its individual elements in one cohesive package, then we will need to consider the fact that there are indeed countless versions of such record players in the world. And these are just limited to variations in dimensions, but come in all sorts of different shapes, many of which would actually be rather difficult to measure. There is, for example, a series of record players that were popular in the 1960s for their timely space age aesthetic and which were more or less spherical. Try measuring that with a traditional notion of size, space, and geometry!

It is, however, a general rule that most record players, provided they are not one of these ludicrous and unruly sizes or shapes, will be in the realms of 20 inches long, 15 inches tall, and will tend to weigh between 10 pounds and 15 pounds.

If your record player is, in fact, a whole stereo system with individual elements, then this will be an entirely different scenario for you to calculate in. Do you go on and measure the surface of each of the individual elements, the speakers, the turntable, the amplifier etc, and then combine all of them together, using some sort of shared surface area? Do you, instead, place them all together like sort of mish mash record player, combining the pieces as they were of one single record player piece, and then measure the dimensions from there? Your guess is as good as mine.

Final Tones

So, there you have it! Hopefully, after having been tired out by your various peregrinations of the mind through the various dimensions of vinyl record cover, you are altogether satisfied and your appetite for knowledge and knowing has been whetted enough for you to take a break from all these questions to actually sit back and listen to an album and enjoy its artwork like so…

Published
Categorized as Vinyl 101

By Robert Halvari

My name is Robert Halvari - audio engineer and a total audiophile. I love vinyl because it has that natural character which brings music to life. I've been using and testing vinyl record players for around 15 years and I'm sharing my love and knowledge of vinyl by publishing all I know at Notes On Vinyl

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